Atlanta closer, Craig Kimbrel, entered Wednesday night’s game in the top of the ninth inning with the Braves leading the Washington Nationals by a score of 3 -1. Braves starter Tommy Hanson, followed by relievers Cory Gearrin, Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters had held the Nats to only one run on 6 hits in the first eight innings, but Kimbrel surrendered that lead after facing only five Washington hitters, loading the bases with only one out before surrendering an RBI double to pinch hitter Alex Cora. Kimbrel then struck out Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth to keep the game tied. With the Atlanta offense unable to score in the bottom half, the game went into extra innings.
Neither team found a way to score in the tenth, which left the game in the hands of right handed relief pitcher Scott Linebrink. After retiring Jerry Hairston on a pop up, things got ugly in a hurry. After plunking pinch hitter Ivan Rodriguez, Linebrink surrendered four consecutive hits, including a two RBI double to Ian Desmond, followed by a two run Homerun by right fielder Jayson Werth. Following an inning ending double play, the Nationals held a 7-3 lead. The Braves were unable to score following Chipper Jones’ leadoff double, as Tyler Clippard retired the side in the bottom half of the inning. Linebrink has struggled in his brief Atlanta career, sporting a hefty 7.50 ERA, 1.75 WHIP and an ugly .346 opponents average against.
The meltdown overshadowed the contributions of Atlanta right fielder Eric Hinske, who got the rare start filling in for injured Jason Heyward. Hinske blasted a solo homerun in the bottom of the seventh to put the Braves ahead 3-1. It was Hinske’s third homerun in his last ten at-bats, and his fourth of the season. Generally used as a pinch hitter, Hinske had three putouts in right field, including a great catch in the top of the fifth to rob Washington’s Roger Bernadina of extra bases. Hinske, who was hitting .280 at the end of April, has raised his average to .357, going 8 for 16 in nine games this month.
The Braves entered the series on a hot streak, having won seven out of eight games this month, including a series sweep over the Milwaukee Brewers, and taking two out of three from the Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta has now lost three out of five to the Washington club on the year. After playing well to begin the month, Atlanta was uncharacteristically sloppy on defense in game one of the series Tuesday night, and inconsistent pitching has hurt the Braves in both games. Atlanta looks to salvage the series finale Thursday night at 7:10 pm EST as the Braves Derek Lowe is scheduled to start against the Nats Jordan Zimmerman.